Vols RB Tauren Poole trying to trust his speed
Tennessee's Tauren Poole is fast. The problem is, the running back sometimes forgets just how fast he can be.
''I told Tauren, 'I saw you outrun the entire Alabama secondary, but then you get the ball on the outside zone and you've got green grass and you stop. You don't trust your speed,''' Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said.
After getting buried on the Vols' depth chart last season behind Montario Hardesty, Bryce Brown and David Oku, Poole wants to rush for 1,000 yards this season. He knows he's got to stop wasting time looking for the bigger breaks in the line and trust that he can outrun his opponents.
He managed to do that against an Alabama defense which hadn't had an opposing rusher pick up more than 100 yards until Poole's 117 on Oct. 23, but his hesitations against South Carolina's tough defensive line a week later limited him to just 33 yards on 16 carries.
''I was trying to do way too much,'' Poole said. ''I wasn't really trusting it, and you could see it throughout the whole entire game. I was stopping my feet and just trying to do way too much - more than I was supposed to.''
The junior from Toccoa, Ga., ranks fifth in the Southeastern Conference in total yards rushing with 628 and is on pace for 942 yards, but that could change against Tennessee's final four opponents.
Mississippi has the best rushing defense of the four, limiting opponents to 152.3 yards rushing, followed by Vanderbilt (177.3), Kentucky (180.3) and Memphis (195.1). The Vols travel to Memphis (1-7) on Saturday night.
By contrast, Alabama's rushing defense ranks 17th in the FBS having given up just 113.4 yards on the ground on average. Poole's performance against the Crimson Tide wasn't a fluke, either - he gained 162 yards against Oregon and 109 against LSU, two teams with running defenses almost as stingy as Bama's.
''Poole has been their guy. He's been productive this year,'' Memphis coach Larry Porter said.
Poole struggled in part last weekend because the Gamecocks have a tough defensive line. But it wasn't the defensive line that stopped him, Dooley said. It was Poole worrying about the defensive line.
''Sometimes when you play a real good defensive line, they can make you jumpy,'' Dooley said. ''Those guys are quick. They're slanting, they're moving, they're on edge. You didn't have clean reads all the time. Things would flash, and then you lose your trust a little bit.''
The Vols' offensive linemen know they sometimes play a role too. Injuries have forced linemen to switch positions, and three true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and two sophomores have started this season.
''It's everybody,'' sophomore defensive tackle Dallas Thomas said. ''It comes down to everything like receivers making their blocks and us communicating up front and making our blocks and him reading off our things. He could have had a few bad reads like we can have a few bad blocks.''
Poole's not putting any blame on the guys around him, though. In fact, he's promised to take them all out to dinner if they can help him reach his 1,000-yard goal.
''I'll do whatever I can for 1,000,'' Poole said. ''I know it seems kind of out of it right now, but I'm going to work hard to get that thousand. I know the guys in front of me are going to work to get the same thing.''